A Support Center Transformation to Shift Left


How we updated tools and processes while moving toward tier zero and self-service

by Richard Sykora
June 21, 2017

BHAG. Big-Hairy-Audacious-Goal. My BHAG was our support center transformation project. The project was a two-year plan to transform both tools and processes and incorporate best practices in many areas. We set out to update or implement chat, work force management, the telephony system, knowledge management and KCS, our communities platform, and more. The overall goal in this massive transformation project was to put content rich and consumable information and knowledge in the hands of our users so they can help themselves.

Little did we know when we began our journey that our strategy had a name: shift left. The concepts to shift left are very straightforward. However, setting up an entire service model and implementing those changes is very complex. Our journey helped us to understand strategic thinking, change management, what good looks like, and research in other areas that had significant influences on our decision making.

Little did we know when we began our journey that our strategy had a name: shift left.
Tweet: Little did we know when we began our journey that our strategy had a name: shift left. @ThinkHDI #ITSM

Shift Where?

As I mentioned, the shift-left strategy is actually fairly easy. On the left side of the spectrum, you have the lowest cost model of providing support to your end users. The left side of the spectrum usually has no direct support people assisting the end-user and is widely known as tier zero or self-service. In the middle of the spectrum you might have some support personnel; however it's more of a many-to-one scenario like chat. As we go farther right on the spectrum, that is where you have a one-to-one ratio of the end-user to a support resource. Beyond that includes escalated issues to third-party vendors, engineers, architects, and such. The figure below is an outline of the shift-left strategy and relative cost.

shift-left, support center

One of the most import goals in the shift-left strategy, is to resolve contacts that traditionally close in the right columns and provide the tools, knowledge, and resources so they close as far left as possible. As you can see by the chart, as more contacts resolve left, the cost of these contacts reduces. The ultimate goal, however, is to deflect contacts coming into your organization. A deflected issue is the least-costliest issue to support. As we walk through our BHAG of the support center transformation project, we will discuss key elements that played an important role in our successful implementation of shift-left processes.

We accomplished our transformation in just over a year. Managing change is important if you want to achieve your goals. You must be able to assess and benchmark how you are doing overall, and from there, where you want to go and ultimately end up at the end of the project. Along the way, you must ask, “What does success look like?”

Richard presented his support center’s journey to shift left at HDI 2017 Conference & Expo.

Are You a Change Leader?

Before the change begins, you need to invest in a great team. Your team needs to be on the same page and have buy-in. I absolutely encourage debate and exchange of ideas during the creation of the plan. At the end of the day, and after many compromises, the TEAM must have full buy-in as well as support both internally and externally in order to work as a cohesive unit.

Create a vision and supporting strategies around the vision. We were not just upgrading a new chat system or WFM system; we had a vision to have best-in-class support tools and processes. The fundamental reason to do so was to create a total support experience. Our goals were not set around the installation of these tools and processes but around providing the best and most consistent experience possible.

During and after the change and project, other key elements needed to be followed. We changed fast; we decided to “rip the band-aide” and go all in. Instead of dragging out each section of change, we changed concurrently within all of the sub-projects. Because the leadership team had complete buy-in as a team, it was easy to get all others to adopt the change, and this made the change stick. We made sure the new processes were adopted and part of the normal workflow, instead of the “new” workflow being an outside tangent.

Successful change requires successful communications throughout the entire process. Consistent feedback from the employees showed that they appreciated the updates and status of the changes, and many even had a chance to participate in discussions as part of overall strategies. We were also fortunate to have a change manager assigned to our transformation project. This change manager is an expert in helping organizations navigate through BHAG changes such as our transformation project. 

Are We There Yet?

We found that time was a very, very precious commodity. We needed to execute these changes while keeping the lights on. We had to make sure the changes made to our transformation not only hit major milestones and stayed in line with our corporate IT timing, but we also had to take care of business on a daily basis. So, we compartmentalized the tasks. Having a single project manager gave us the time and space to strategize, conceive, create, and execute our initiative while the phones were turned on. Instead of the entire team working on every detail, we divided and conquered. Each support leader was assigned different aspects of the transformation project to lead to its conclusion.

It is tough to be strategic while delivering daily operations tactically. We realized the difference of strategic thought and process, versus the operational grind. A strategic view is about creating long-term goals and objectives based on achieving a desired outcome. The operational view is having repetitive activities that are the day-to-day core processes that achieve tactical performance goals, SLAs, etc.

Leaders must allocate the right amount of time to strategic thinking in order to align goals and objectives, establish governance over the changes, and build metrics to establish goals and a clear vison of how to measure success.

The Last Step to Success

To execute your strategic plans, you should assess where you want to wind up after it’s all said and done. You need to know where you are, where you are going, and how you plan to get there. Assessing current performance around service strategy to include process, people, and tools is a must-do benchmarking exercise. You cannot measure success unless you establish your baseline.

Just like in Lean processes, you need to have a roadmap to get from current state to future state. What gaps do you need to close in order to wind up in your future state model?

As we moved forward with our plans, we had four main storylines that were tied to the future state model:
 

  • We wanted to improve efficiency and integration across all customer channels.
  • We wanted to provide the same customer experience through all channels.
  • We wanted to look at where we could stop doing things immediately, especially in areas that created unique processes or systems that would be outside of consistent experiences.
  • We wanted to be more proactive to anticipate customer needs.

Out of these main storylines, clear and focused goals started to emerge. Not only did we want to be successful in implementing best-of-class tools, industry processes, and best practices, we also wanted to start pushing more information to our clients and change the culture of how we provide support.

Our desired results were fairly simple. Getting there, however, is a totally different, complex series of events. We wanted to reduce FCR and make a major change to our KB usage, tool, and KCS methodology throughout the organization. With chat, and the telephony changes as well, we introduced technologies with high customer impact. In the end, we also had to reduce overall costs. Our calculations showed that if we were to achieve the desired results, the number of people we really needed in our department would decrease. We had to see this cost savings, as those savings were actually part of how we would pay for the cost of all of the upgraded systems, when viewing this in a three-year plan. We were on the hook to deliver.

When it comes to calculating costs, many organizations struggle with how to measure cost of support. However, in order to predict outcomes and success, you must have some sort of financial measurement in order to quantify the ROI if you are ever going to get a project off the ground. There are several ways to calculate cost.

First, you could calculate the cost per case. This seems to be the easiest way to calculate. A slightly more complex way to look at costs is the cost per customer. This is especially interesting when you have many users from one customer calling in to support and useful when your support runs a margin based on specific revenue per customer.

An additional complex way to measure costs is Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Basically you have several layers of costs depending who had to resolve the issue. The more escalated the case is, the more costly the case becomes. The more a case shifts right up the chain, the more costly that case becomes.

I do not suggest or imply that any of these methods would be right for you. Every organization has a different setup, funding mechanism, and many other variables. However, we learned through our project to pick one way to measure and then continue to measure the same way each time. Every time you make a change in your measurement of costs, the more invalid the baseline will become.

More Millennials

When you are involved in a major project and you are on the hook for producing results that will effectively change the way your performance engine works each day, you’ll want to do some research. This activity will not only help guide you to the best results, but usually offers you resources to rely on when challenged with your decisions.

One day when researching change and shaping support for the future, we stumbled onto a very intriguing set of information that really validated we were on the right path. There is a huge amount of research data, articles, and more about Millennials in the workplace and Millennials as they pertain to support.

One source that made an impression on me was a JD Powers study from 600,000 consumers. (Now that’s a response rate!) The study revealed that Millennials are more likely to reuse the product or interact with the brand after an issue has been resolved. Also, millennials prefer self-service for issue resolution and avoid call centers whenever possible, and they want to get service on their own time. If forced to talk to a person, they will, but they'd rather avoid it. Assuming they get something in exchange for their information, they're willing to share their data (communities immediately come to mind).

Other studies we found online seem to agree and share the same types of outcomes. A picture starts to emerge of what a technology consumer will look like over the next few years and how it will evolve. It is clear we must evolve, and our (unbeknownst) shift-left programs were heading in that direction as well.

That Which We Call a Rose by Any Other Name….

To recap, I found myself in a support transformation project, with BHAG goals and objectives. In order to be successful in the project, we needed to make sure we had the right change leadership initiatives, clear strategies and goals, and communicate often with our teams. We needed to also make sure we allocated time as a resource that separated the performance engine from the innovation.

For our transformation, we were updating our enterprise chat system. We worked on upgrading our telephony system, as well as installing new work force management software that integrates well with the updated phone system. We completely overhauled our knowledge base, making great efforts to follow KCS methodologies. We updated search engines and updated all community platforms to one single vendor providing a consistent look and theme to our online communities. And lastly, we reviewed and updated all content available to our clients, including blogs, videos, and other self-service content.

As we used call data to drive customer consumable content, we started seeing shift-left strategies. Creating chat penetration strategies and goals were set to be 15% higher than before. We identified KB coaches and KB champions to help develop and maintain content and all of the best KCS methodologies.  We also created webinars for proactive content delivery, created/updated communities for peer-to-peer interactions via community managers, and strategically embedded videos within software. To top it all, and I believe a really big game changer, we opened up our firewall so anyone can search our customer-facing KB from the outside, even without a login. Call deflection was the true end game to all of our strategic plans.

As we began to see the results of our work, month over month, we continued to see the sweet smell of a rose by any other name, shift left.  As an example of call deflection success, the results showed KB unique users increase from 20,000 to 80,000 users. In our communities, we saw an increase in over 300,000 page views quarterly and an increase in the number of blogs viewed by 100,000 year-over-year(YOY). Where we created videos to focus on content specific to that area of the product, we saw a decrease in contact volume by 21% by embedding the product video links in the software.

Other indicators continued to show success in many areas. Our company has been growing, and our client base has been increasing 8% YOY. However, due to our successful call deflection efforts, our actual incoming volume has remained flat or lower YOY. In addition, we have seen a decrease of more than $1 million in operational costs despite the client growth.

Despite all of these changes to how we interact with clients, the processes clients have to follow, and the tools the clients use to contact support, we have maintained a CSAT score of 93%+ each and every month. The industry has also recognized our work in this area with Stevie Awards, ASP top ten website awards, and as a finalist in both 2016 HDI Service Improvement award and Knowledge-Centered Service award.

The concepts of shift left are fairly easy to understand. The process and journey to get to shift left is complex. Our organization has certainly transformed the way we do support. The one aspect of this whole journey we just realized is that our clients were on the same journey. Not only did our support organization shift left, but our clients shifted left as well. That by any other name would smell as sweet.


Richard Sykora has been in customer service management for more than 20 years. Richard developed successful support models using various work force management best practices in both national and global operations. He has also navigated through several large-scale transformation projects resulting in significant cost savings throughout the support organization. Richard is Manager, Customer Support at Blackbaud, Lean Practitioner Certified, and is a career coach with RestartSC non-profit. Connect with Richard on LinkedIn.


Tag(s): self-service, supportworld, service management, support center, ITSM, workforce enablement

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